Hispanic America is celebrating Saturday’s swearing-in ofSonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court Justice; African-Americans are happy that both the Attorney Generalof the United States and the man in the Oval Office are black like them. And much of Caucasian Nation isbreathing a self-satisfied sigh of relief because diversity has flowered andour country’s long-standing, race problems are behind us.
Not so fast, friends. In thetrenches, while diversity has improved, minorities still have a long way togo. Since we are on the subject oflaw, celebrating the success of three Ivy League law school grads, let’sexamine that industry in particular. Just a couple months ago, 14 Fortune 500senior legal execs and a number of law firm MP’s formed the Leadership Councilon Legal Diversity (LCLD) to address what they perceive to be a shortage ofwomen and minorities in law firms across the country. We’re talking about companies like Walmart, General Mills,Coca Cola, Microsoft, American Airlines and Bristol-Myers Squibb whose seniorlegal execs want more data on law firm hiring and employment practices tomeasure success (and shortfalls) and to help eliminate impediments which may precludeminorities and women from having “a full and fair opportunity to perform, tosucceed and to lead.”
Last week, my company (full disclosure: a career information company whichpartners with LCLD and others to promote diversity in the workplace) sponsoreda career and job fair for minorities in the legal profession. It’s our fourth year with this event,and as you might expect – in this economy – there were fewer law firmsrecruiting than in ’08, not to mention 2007. And not surprisingly, there were more candidates attending(law students and experience attorneys too.)
Here’s what’s interesting: while there were fewer law firms, we saw increased participation fromgovernment agencies and companies looking for top diversity candidates withadvanced education – from the US Navy to Goldman Sachs. So while law firms have been cuttingback on hiring in this recession, there seem to be other opportunities in lessobvious places. Secondly, thequality of the candidates and the number of older candidates has increaseddramatically. While a law degreewas the constant, the backgrounds of the candidates were startlingly diverseand their passion for opportunities and creativity about their career was ondisplay.
As hiring officers and as careerists, the evidence continues to mount thatwe are in different times which require all of us to think and operate moreopenly and creatively. With theright attitude, these can be seen as exciting times of great opportunity. But no one should be resting on anylaurels, no matter how much progress we see at the top of the pyramid with thelikes of Obama and Sotomayor.